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Phillips Blog: Project-Based Learning for the Win

In addition to being a small business and education reporter, I’m an educator. I teach five online graduate school classes for Prescott College in Arizona in their Social Justice and Community Organizing graduate program. I also began guest teaching a class at Patrick Henry High School, as part of my work with North News, in their new project-based learning project.

I did not grow up wanting to be an educator, but I chose to get my doctorate in education and I choose to practice journalism so that it’s both educating and informing, not just in the content, but in how I teach people about what journalism is, what their role is in making journalism happen, and why journalism matters. It’s what attracted me to North News and to the work I do for the paper.

The class I teach at Henry is all of these things — and more — wrapped up in one. Every week, I’m at Henry High for a little less than four hours, total. It’s a bumpy ride in a new project, but it’s easily the highlight of an already incredible job. My students are working to publish a newspaper for the Henry community, in collaboration with North News. Their student newspaper, Area 44, is a work in progress, but the work they’ve put into it is such a treasure. This Henry High + North News collaboration is such an incredible opportunity for North News to deepen our relationships in community and, as I am learning, for my students to not just develop their voice, but to realize how valid and powerful their voice is.

Our first issue publishes soon (stay tuned). Student Danae Lawson will be publishing a piece on teacher of color representation for Minneapolis Public Schools, and student Datelle Straub has a piece coming out on MPS’ food services and student perspectives on school lunches.

Recently our Henry students had a chance to test their interview skills on Minneapolis Public Schools’ Director Kerry Jo Felder (Ward 2) and they got to sit down with MPS Director of Culinary and Wellness Services Bertrand Weber in December. After their interview with Felder, my students jumped at the chance to attend the December 11th  MPS Board Meeting. They have questions for the MPS Board and Superintendent, and through our work on Area 44, we’re learning just how to get those questions answered. Beyond all of this, we’re all looking forward to a potential trip to the Minnesota State Capitol in January.

During the December 11th  MPS Business Meeting, Superintendent Ed Graff told the Board and MPS staff that they would need to stand up for MPS, because negative mainstream and social media impacted students and their learning and made teaching more difficult. He is correct. He recommended that reporters get into the classroom and get to know those they critiqued. At North News (and, now, Area 44) we’re not about critiquing and criticizing without merit (and we believe in fair and just reporting), but we do believe in getting our hands dirty and getting into the classroom or schools whenever possible. At North News, we believe our responsibility as journalists does not end when we publish, we believe in inviting the community into our newsroom and making sure that our newsroom is community. We believe in making sure that journalism is made up of community-oriented and community-understood processes. It’s true of our work at North High and it remains true of our work at Henry High.

Teaching is not easy work– I’m at Henry a couple hours a day, a couple times a week.  I’m so impressed with the diligence of our educators in doing the work every day and in my students too. They come prepared, they come with questions, they’re taking full opportunity of every bit of the course they can (from freewriting to transcribing), and they’re looking forward to seeing their names in the newspaper next to the words “Student Reporter.” One student recently told me that the course is the highlight of his day, so much so that he rushed home to tell his mom that’s he getting published soon! And he’s even been inspired to apply for an open position with the Minnesota Youth Council as we move forward on a potential collaboration around a statewide youth summit being planned for March 30 at Henry High. He asked me recently how many years of college he would need to become a reporter.

I’m so grateful for the Henry community inviting me in to teach these students and for the students welcoming me as an educator. They’ve approached this work with open eyes, ears, and hands, and that’s been incredible to witness. I’m also grateful for the Phillips Family Foundation for putting their money at schools like Henry where innovation is practiced and not just preached.


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